Category Archives: Book Reviews

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologies #BookReview

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Book Title: My Grandmother Sends her Regards & Apologies
Author: Fredrik Backman

It was with a happy sense of anticipation that I picked up this book. I’d loved A Man Called Ove and had turned quite a Backman fan. Plus the title conjured up cosy warm images of a sweet eccentric old woman. 

The story

Elsa is an almost eight-year old whose only friend in the whole world is her cantankerous rebellious granny. They are both ‘different’ and ‘difficult’. Since when Elsa was a baby her grandmother tells her the story of the Land-of-Almost-Awake, an imaginary land which has five different kingdoms. There are trolls, dragons and snow angels in these kingdoms as well as monsters and deadly shadows.

When Elsa’s granny passes away she leaves behind a bunch of letters to be delivered to people who live in their apartment complex. Elsa gets these letters one at a time through a treasure hunt. Each of them is designed to help her get to know the residents, to perhaps form a connection with them. As she does that, the imaginary and real worlds come together and help mend her broken heart not only brining her closer to her own family but also forming a large extended one.

The review

The premise of this book, the idea of it, is absolutely fantastic. The execution, however, fell far short of my expectations. I had a hard time ploughing through this one. To begin with I couldn’t get myself to really like either Elsa, who is precocious and much too grown up for her age, or her granny. That Elsa is a Harry Potter fan redeemed her just a tiny little bit but I couldn’t make myself feel for her at all. She seemed to know and understand more grown up thoughts and feelings than all the grown ups in the story.

Then there was Granny. She was just annoying, and not in a sweet funny way (like Ove). A lot of her sequences seemed to be written with the deliberate idea of making her sound crazy. They made for great quotable quotes but did little to make her likeable. She passes away early in the book, but in the bit that we get to see, she is irrational and unpleasant to everyone (except Elsa).

Granny  didn’t make sense to me. We get a glimpse of her younger days through accounts from other characters. Apparently she had been a conscientious doctor and had touched many lives through her courage and compassion and had forged unbreakable connections. The two images – the passionate doctor and crazy granny – just didn’t come together for me.

She is also said to have struggled with guilt because she couldn’t spend enough time with Elsa’s mom, Ulrika. If she did regret it, I thought she would have tried to make up for it in some way. However, all she does is make life difficult for the pregnant Ulrika, who was my favourite character in the book – harried yet struggling to keep her cool with very little help from either Elsa or Granny.

Then there was the Land-of-Almost-Awake. I started out loving the concept of all these  imaginary characters finding parallels in real life. But that became my greatest gripe. The imaginary lands were just too many and they got so very complicated that I couldn’t keep track. Rather than adding to the story, they slowed down its progress unbearably, till it became one big confusing mess.

The end was somewhat interesting but by then I just wanted the book to finish.

Oh and Britt Marie is a side character in the book. Britt Marie Was Here was on my TBR but now I’m wondering if it’s worth it. 

This one was a waste of a great idea.

Last thought: You can give this one a miss.

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Jinnah Often Came to Our House #BookReview

 

Jinnah (2)

Book Title: Jinnah Often Came to Our House
Author: Kiran Doshi

The best way to learn history is to weave it into a story, a fictional tale with a dash of drama. When an author does that, and does it well, history becomes a captivating story rather than a dry collection of facts. It becomes easier to understand, to sympathise and to identify with. That’s exactly what Kiran Doshi does so very brilliantly in this book of his – Jinnah Often Came to Our House.

So he takes one of the most intriguing characters from Indian history – Jinnah, puts him in the story of Sultan and Rehana and sets it in the backdrop of the Indian struggle for Independence.

What we have then is a gripping book.

The story begins with Sultan a well-to-do upper class Kowaishi Mohammedon lawyer, or barrister, as they were called then. He is in the process of separating from his English wife. He then woos and weds Rehana, sets up his practice and goes on to make a mark in the Indian legal system. He vows to remain apolitical, to stay away from the freedom struggle, to focus on being just a lawyer. He fights cases for Hindus and Muslims alike, hence the nickname Azad.

This is also as much, perhaps more, the story of Rehana – the only surviving child of a forward thinking Muslim professor. She falls for the witty Sultan and fits into his life and his family like a long-lost piece of jigsaw. She wins over Bari phuppi, the matriarch of the family, who bestows a grant on her to set up a school for muslim girls (which she later opens up to all girls). Strongly influenced by Gandhi ji, Rehana later joins the Congress and fights for India’s freedom.

Most of all, this is the story of Jinnah, woven beautifully, inextricably with these two characters. Jinnah who is Sultan’s very famous senior and later, a friend. Jinnah, who parries and argues with Rehana in Shakespearean quotes and also nurses a soft spot for her.

The book talks about his turbulent marriage with Ruttie, the effervescent Parsi girl young enough to be his daughter (he was just three years younger than her father) and his brotherly affection for his (quite unpleasant) sister, Fatima. It talks about his journey from a pork eating, cigarette smoking liberal Muslim who believed firmly in Hindu and Muslim unity, to the man who fathered a separate nation for the Muslims.

The Review

The biggest strength of this book is its smooth gently-flowing narrative that keeps the reader turning pages.

It gives a fascinating glimpse of the Bombay of the early 20th century. It talks about upper class Muslims of that time, when men went hunting and got together at clubs to gossip; when the streets were washed by the bhishtees and the first Rolls Royce rolled out; the time when electric fans, flush toilets and hydraulic lifts were things only the very high-class could afford. It was absolutely fascinating.

While I was aware of the facts that lead up to partition I had little idea of the way the Congress spearheaded the freedom struggle, the various factions within it, the motivations of the people who joined it as also those of the few who decided to stay away. There was also the formation of the Muslim League, the way Jinnah initially distanced himself from it, decried it for trying to split the country on communal lines and then how he joined it because, as he said, better him than a conservative Muslim.

He continues to work for an Independent India till the Gandhi wave takes over the Nation, sidelining him completely. From the most respected man of the country he is suddenly lost in this wave, turning angry and bitter. It broke my heart a little bit to watch him change page by page until finally, driven largely by his ego, he decides to write a different history. And we watch as he singlehandedly forges a new country banishing India and Pakistan to eternal enmity.

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The book opened me up to new perspectives.

For instance there’s Gandhi. I have come a long way from idolising him to demonising him in my early youth, to now finally accepting him as an extraordinary man who had his flaws. The book reinforces that image. I could see how frustrating it would have been to live and fight along a man like Gandhi. Many of his decisions made sense only to him, though they were right on principle they took away from the freedom struggle. For people like Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose and perhaps even Jinnah in the beginning, the freedom struggle was supreme but for Gandhi it was his principles that were most important.

Despite all the complications, the twists and turns, Kiran Doshi manages to tell this tale simply and with plenty of humour. 

Last Thought: Absolute must-read.

You can buy Jinnah Often Came to Our House by clicking on the image below.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you buy the book on Amazon through this link, I will get a referral fee, at no additional cost to you.

The Graveyard Book #BookReview

 

The graveyard book - Book review

Book Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman

The only Neil Gaiman book I’d read was Coraline, which I’d loved. This one had long been on my TBR and finally I managed to get to it.

The Story

A baby who has just mastered the art of walking, wakes up in the middle of the night. Eager to try out his new skills he climbs out of his crib and makes his tottering way down the steps from his nursery and out of the house. He has no idea of the dangers that await him out there. Or also, the bigger danger that he has escaped – a killer is out to finish the family. He stabs the baby’s parents and older sister but has to give up in frustration on not finding that one last member.

The child makes his way to the local graveyard where he is adopted by the ghosts and is named Nobody Owens. Nobody, or Bod finds friends, parents and a mentor among the dead. The graveyard becomes his home. But he is human after all, alive and very curious. As he steps out, he finds the graveyard is perhaps the safest place for him.

The review

This is a delightful little story – Gaiman’s tribute to the Jungle Book (did you notice the similarity in the title?). Just as Mowgli was adopted by the animals of the jungles where he was abandoned, so is Bod adopted by the ghosts of the graveyard.

He learns his alphabet from grave headstones and is coached by his dead friends in ghostly skills like fading, haunting and dream walking. He meets up with a variety of graveyard-residents  – the good ghosts and the bad ones, ghouls, witches, night-gaunts and the Hounds of God.

His life might seem boring what with barely any friends and even fewer living ones, but he manages to get himself into plenty of adventures.

The most intriguing bit is obviously the setting. It creeped me out a little bit in the first few pages but by the end of the book I found myself wishing Bod would just stay there in the graveyard with his ghostly parents and his mysteriously fascinating mentor; that he wouldn’t lose his special graveyard powers or venture out in the world; his potential be damned!

But step out he does, sampling school life for a bit and even making a friend but he always returns to the graveyard.

For someone like Bod who can see and interact with ghosts, the distinction between the dead and living is rather blurred. His mentor/guardian puts things beautifully in perspective.

“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”

I loved how simple yet profound that quote is and how clearly it helps Bod separate the living from the dead. That is perhaps what gives him reason to give up his dead friends and seek out living ones.

The writing is simple, the story extremely engaging. Each of the chapters is written out like a short story and yet each of them moves Bod’s story forward.

I found The Graveyard book a wonderful read-together book for me and my tweens. The idea of ghosts beyond the scary evil forces they are made out to be is such a novel one. Like Gaiman says in one of his interviews, this one is ‘Not a children’s book but a book that children will enjoy’ as will adults.

Last thought: Go read it.

You can buy The Graveyard Book by clicking on the image below.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you buy the book on Amazon through this link, I will get a referral fee, at no additional cost to you.

Carthicks Unfairy Tales #BookReview

Carthick's Unfairy Tales

I thought this majestic horse was a befitting backdrop for fairy tales.

Book Title: Carthick’s Unfairy Tales
Author: TF Carthick

I’d seen this one on social media and the title seemed intriguing. Then Shantala from ShanayaTales recommended it and the link was right there waiting for me and so here I am with the review.

Carthick’s Unfairy Tales takes seven well-loved fairy tales of our childhood and turns them on their head. Cinderella, Princess and the Frog, Goldilocks, Jack and the Beanstalk, Pied Piper of Hamelin, Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel and Gretel get a complete makeover in this short story collection.

You know the story, right? But this is a whole new interpretation, a different point of view, one that blurs the boundaries of good and bad.

So we have a Cinderella who isn’t as sweet a girl as we thought her to be and Rumpelstiltskin isn’t a nasty old goblin after all. A princess doesn’t go weak in the knees when her frog turns into a prince while the prince may not be good and kind and chivalrous.

I enjoyed figuring out who would be the narrator in each of the stories and the different point of view gave a fresh perspective.

The language is simplistic but you get bits of interesting life philosophy thrown in. Sample this one from Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

You have to try everything. You need to poke your nose everywhere. Isn’t that what being human is all about? You call it intelligence, curiosity, spirit of enterprise and other fancy names. But the fact remains that you are nothing but nosy busybodies. 

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Rumplestillskin. It kept me hooked and the end took me by surprise/shock. That’s all I’ll say to keep the review spoiler free.

Last Thought: If you’re looking for something sweet and sappy, this one is not for you. However, if it’s the unusual and unexpected you’re after, even dark and twisted maybe, give it read.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – #BookReview

Eleanor Oliphant-2

Book Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman

When one receives two recommendations for the same book on the same day and then is urged on by a few others, one’s will-power really stands no chance. I am only human after all. That’s how I found myself heading over to Amazon and clicking ‘Buy now’ on Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Four days later, it has been delivered and read.

The story

The book tells the story of Eleanor Oliphant (obviously) a thirty year old woman. She is a quaint character, dry and friendless, who leads a simple life, with few interests and no ambition. She has no friends and doesn’t miss having them either.

She has a mysterious, perhaps dark, past, moving from foster homes to juvenile shelters, never staying at one place for too long, never forming relationships. All she seems to have are weekly phone conversations with her ‘mummy’ who is in some kind of prison and continues to have a strong hold on Eleanor’s life.

She works at an office – the one she joined right after college, and has been there for nine years. She is aware that she is the subject for gossip and ridicule and doesn’t quite mind it, even laughing at the jokes cracked at her expense.

Then one day she gets caught up (rather reluctantly) in rescuing an old man who has collapsed on the street. That’s how her life begins to change, one bit at a time.

What I loved

I didn’t warm up to Eleanor through the first few pages. But then she isn’t a loveable character, definitely not one you can love at first sight.

She improves immensely over the pages. I grew to love her quirky sense of humour. Her world view is endearing – she finds the entire world strange even while the world thinks she is the strange one. The matter-of-fact way in which she accepts her exclusion is at once funny and sad. I loved how she accepts her looks despite the scar on her face.

Initially, I found it odd how judgemental she was. She judged everyone, all the time, without even being aware of it. She judged them for the way they behaved, the way they ate or conducted themselves as also the way they dressed and looked. Which is why it was gratifying to watch her grow out of that mindset, one that had been fostered in the early years of her life. It was wonderful to watch her find her own voice, which was gentler, kinder, more considerate.

The book brings out in heartbreaking, frightening reality how much our childhood experiences mould the adults we become. This was the most remarkable thing about it –   Eleanor’s transformation – her journey from merely ‘fine’ to happy and content. That remains my most precious takeaway – that being fine is not enough, that life is much more. Life is about relationships, about finding love and happiness.

The not so good bits

First, there was the bit about her mother. Considering that she affected Eleanor so strongly I wanted to know more about her, about their relationship, what was it that led to the ‘accident’. But we never get a really clear picture – only the bits and pieces from Eleanor’s rather shaky memory. I was left with many unanswered questions.

However, my major issue with the book was that it had too many shades of two of my most loved reads – A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project. Those two are so high up there among my all time favourites that I could not help but recognise them here.

Comparisons are odious I know, but also inevitable.

When it comes to portraying a curmudgeon with a heart none can beat Ove. One connects with him right from the first page when he goes to buy that iPad (this one also has Eleanor going to buy a computer). Then there’s the likeness with the inimitable Don Tillman of The Rosie Project, as the wonderfully sweet scientist with Asperger’s Syndrome. Eleanor’s portrayal of social ineptness reminded me of him and his character was crafted so much better that her oddities didn’t stand out. Perhaps had I read this one first I would have enjoyed it without the comparisons.

Also, she’s never had a McDonald’s burger in thirty years of her life?

Last thought: This one is most definitely worth a read. Do pick it up.

Have you read the book? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Click on the link below to buy Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine at Amazon.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you buy the book on Amazon through this link, I will get a referral fee, at no additional cost to you. 

Mrs Funnybones #booktalk

Mrs Funnybones-2

Book Title: Mrs Funnybones
Author: Twinkle Khanna

After the entire world had read it, reviewed it and heaped praises on it, finally I got around to reading Twinkle Khanna’s Mrs Funnybones. In fact, this really isn’t a review at all, just some thoughts about the book. If you’re one of the minuscule number who, like me, haven’t gotten around to it you could take a read.

I read her columns, along with millions of others, and like them too but somehow I kept pushing the book away. The thing is I’m a novel -reader. Bits and bytes of storytelling don’t tempt me. But then the kids’ had their exams and I was looking for something  short, light and happy that I could read on and off between their multiple calls for help. Mrs Funnybones fitted the bill to a tee.

This is a collection of, what seem like journal entries or blogposts, from the life of Twinkle Khanna – a mom of two.

What would have otherwise been random disconnected, though interesting, slice-of-life entries, transform into an engrossing read by her unfailing wit and self-deprecatory humour with bits of life-learnings thrown in. The book is a perfect mix, specially in my current preoccupied state of mind.

I shared this quote on twitter last week. I loved it and apparently, so did some 600 other tweeples.

 

Mrs Funnybones quote

Twinkle Khanna had a short stint at Bollywood, is the wife of a famous actor and the daughter of one too, however the book doesn’t read like the life of a celebrity. And yet there is no effort to block off the famous family members or shy away from the fame – the husband’s or the mom’s. They step in and out of the pages of the book perhaps just as they walk in and out of the house – easily, naturally, nonchalantly. I enjoyed those  glimpses.

The book has plenty of endearing moments – her sleeplessness over an impending photoshoot as also her worry when a bunch of family members descend at her home for a festive get-together, her rush to the book-store to buy a book that her son needs for an assignment, her impatience with fasting for Karwa Chauth, yet finding the fun in the festivities. Enjoyable, relatable.

The best thing about Mrs Funnybones is that she finds a connect with you without ever getting mundane.

I have to add, though, that try as I might I cannot picture her hailing an auto with two children in tow. Are the days of famous people being mobbed really all gone? Or even that bit where she’s frying McCain samosas in the kitchen, drenched in sweat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disbelieving her, just finding it hard to. No, it isn’t the same thing.

Last Thought: A perfect read for the in-between times.

Big Little Lies – A Review

Beat About the Book

Book Title: Big Little Lies
Author: Lian Moriarty

This review is long long overdue and yet I’m doing it not because of a professional commitment but because I’d promised myself this book was too good to be buried in my “read’ list and forgotten. I know I’ve raved about it on social media so that almost all my friends have read it and yet I’m going ahead with the review because it’s worth it :-).

I already said in my Teaser Tuesday how Big Little Lies kept me awake at nights. I’ll add now that it lived up to its promise right up to the last chapter.

The Story

This is essentially the the story of three kindergarten moms whose children start school together. They all go to Pirriwee Public School. There’s Madeline, mom of two – a teenage daughter (with her ex-husband) and a kindergartener. There’s the ethereally beautiful Celeste who has a pair of rambunctious twin boys and there’s Jane and her son. There are two more moms who are a crucial part of the story – Renata, the high-flying executive mom and, Bonnie, wife of Madeline’s ex husband.

Did I just confuse you? Well just go over this again because these are the ones you need to watch out for. There are half a score more that had me thoroughly confused for the first few pages of the book. However as I read on they began to take on personality and form alignments and cliques.

That’s the best bit about the book – it unravels slowly, page by page and that is what keeps you hooked.

But I’m digressing. Back to the story.

The book opens with a murder but you don’t get to know who was killed till the very end. So while most thrillers focus on figuring out ‘who did it’ and ‘how it was done’, in this one we’re also wondering who died. A murder investigation thread runs through the book.

But that isn’t the only mystery. On the first day of school Jane’s son, Ziggy, is accused of bullying Renata’s daughter Amabella. While Amabella says it’s him, he steadfastly refuses to accept his crime. His mom, Jane’s believes him instinctively, but she has a secret which prompts her to doubt him.

What I felt/thought

Big Little Lies has the distinction of making me break my resolve of never reading the end of a book before I actually get to it. Twice.

This might make the book seem like a thriller, which it is, but to say that it is just that wouldn’t be fair. It is much more, bravely tackling issues like domestic violence, rape, co-parenting, single parents, stay-at-home moms vs working moms and teenage angst. There are scores of everyday issues that kindergarten moms handle – last minute school projects, birthday parties, playdates, bullying and of course parent politics. I could identify with a lot of it and that’s what made the book enjoyable.

The TV series

While I’m at it, I also have to mention the television series based on the book starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley.

I watched it after I read the book because I simply didn’t want to step out of the Big Little Lies haze.

It’s a great watch with some wonderful moments and inspiring dialogue. My favourite bit is where Nicole Kidman, who plays Celeste, takes up a case (she was a practicing lawyer before she had the twins). She scores a win in the negotiations and comes away on a high. And she shouts out, ‘Being a mother is not enough for me.’ I loved that scene. The sense of freedom she feels in verbalising that thought, which perhaps has been dormant  in her head for some time, is so beautiful to watch. Also, the scenes of domestic violence are brutal. They made me snap out of my long time crush on Alexander Skarsgard (which I’d developed after watching The Legend of Tarzan), completely and very rudely, I might add.

It is available on Hotstar in India, in case you want to watch it.

That said, I have to mention that the book is much better. It is much more layered revealing the story bit by bit while never letting the pace flag. Do read it first. You’ll know why I say so once you do.

Last thought: Go for it.